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Trump Wins Nevada's GOP Caucuses; Rubio Narrowly Takes Second


I feel like I've said these words on this program before. Donald Trump won. This time it was the Nevada Republican caucuses, and he won by a large margin last night - more than 20 points ahead of second-place finisher Marco Rubio. Ted Cruz came in third. Trump now goes forward with a lot of momentum onto the next big primary season test, Super Tuesday on March 1, where delegates in 13 states are up for grabs. And polls show Trump is leading almost everywhere. Here's NPR national political correspondent, Mara Liasson.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Donald Trump held his victory party in Las Vegas, not far from his own Trump International Hotel.


DONALD TRUMP: Of course, if you listen to the pundits, we weren't expected to win too much. And now we're winning, winning, winning the country.


TRUMP: And soon, the country is going to start winning, winning, winning.

LIASSON: Trump has now taken three of the four early contests in three different regions of the country, all by big margins. The Republican establishment is desperate to find a way to stop him. The combined support of all the other candidates is greater than Trump's, but Trump benefits as long as there's a multicandidate field. He seemed to taunt the GOP leadership last night, as he looked ahead to the next set of contests in March, including the home states of the only candidates within striking distance of Trump, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.


TRUMP: We've had some great numbers coming out of Texas.


TRUMP: And amazing numbers coming out of Tennessee and Georgia and Arkansas, and then in a couple of weeks later, Florida. We love Florida.

LIASSON: Trump's winning coalition in Nevada was broad. He won all ages, incomes and education levels, and he won evangelical voters just as he had in South Carolina.


TRUMP: It looks like we won by a lot. Evangelicals - I love the evangelicals. We won with young. We won with old. We won with highly educated. We won with poorly educated. I love the poorly educated. We're the smartest people. We're the most loyal people. And you know what I really am happy about? Because I've been saying it for a long time - 46 percent were the Hispanics, 46 percent, number one with Hispanics.

LIASSON: Hispanics made up about 9 percent of the Republican caucus vote in Nevada and, at least according to entrance polls, they also broke for Trump, even though both Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are of Cuban dissent. Latino participation in the Republican caucuses here, like overall Republican turnout, was way up over 2012. That's in contrast to the turnout in the Democratic caucuses here. They were held on Saturday, and turnout was down from 2008. Fifty-eight percent of Republican caucus goers told pollsters they were angry at the federal government, and 60 percent said they wanted a nominee who was outside the political establishment. It was another hard night for Ted Cruz. He lost evangelicals once again to Trump. He sounded a little downbeat when he told his supporters he couldn't wait to get home to Texas, which votes on March first.


TED CRUZ: History teaches us that nobody has ever won the nomination without winning one of the first three primaries, and there're only two people who have won one of the first three primaries, Donald Trump and us.

LIASSON: But this week, the Republican establishment began to coalesce in earnest around Marco Rubio. He received a slew of new endorsements and big donor support. However, Rubio has yet to take on Trump directly, although Trump said this week he can't wait to go after Rubio. Rubio's distant finish was a disappointment. He had family ties to Nevada, where he had lived as a child. Rubio was not in the state last night. He held a rally in Michigan earlier Tuesday.

MARCO RUBIO: You have a right to be frustrated and angry, but I also want you to understand that we have a chance to do something really special here in this generation. And we still have time to get it, but we are running out of time. And that's why 2016...

LIASSON: It might be Rubio and the GOP leadership who are running out of time to stop Donald Trump, says political analyst Larry Sabato.


LARRY SABATO: Is it too late? That's really the question. They had an opportunity much earlier in the season, and they just couldn't get it together because none of them could imagine either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz being the nominee. Now, why they couldn't imagine, I don't know.

LIASSON: Now that the Republican establishment can imagine, only too well, that Trump could lead their party in November, and many are convinced he would lead it to certain defeat, they have to figure out exactly how they and Rubio can stop him.


SABATO: Well, that's the whole question. How will it happen? It can only happen if all of the other candidates drop out and the establishment rushes to his support with massive amounts of money and material, and you overwhelm the Trump forces. That's the only way to do it.

LIASSON: Marco Rubio needs to start winning - but where? Rubio himself says that he expects to start winning on March 15. That's when his home state of Florida votes. But as Donald Trump pointed out last night, he's ahead of Rubio in the polls there too. Mara Liasson, NPR News, Las Vegas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.